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Health Highlights: Sept. 7, 2007

Here are some of the latest health and medical news developments, compiled by editors of HealthDay:

U.S. Rejects N.Y. Effort to Insure More Children

The Bush administration has turned thumbs down on a New York state plan to allow more families to participate in the national State Children's Health Insurance Program (SCHIP), citing guidelines issued just three weeks ago, the Associated Press reported.

New York had proposed allowing more middle-income families to participate by expanding eligibility in SCHIP to 400 percent of the federal poverty level, which translates to $68,680 for a family of three. But the U.S. Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services denied the plan, saying the state hadn't shown that it met new guidelines requiring 95 percent enrollment among all poor children before higher-income children could be admitted, the AP said.

"New York has not demonstrated that its program operates in an effective and efficient manner with respect to the core population of targeted low-income children," said Kerry Weems, acting administrator for the Medicare/Medicare agency.

State lawmakers said New York had made every effort to enroll more of its poor children in the SCHIP program.

"It is clear the [Bush] administration is spoiling for a fight and it's unfortunate [President Bush] has chosen children's health care," said Rep. Charles Rangel (D.-N.Y.), who called the decision "unconscionable."

The House of Representatives in early August passed a measure to increase funding for SCHIP to $75 billion over five years, while a similar Senate bill raises the level to $60 billion. President Bush, whose administration has proposed spending about $30 billion over the span, has threatened to veto the House or Senate versions if either reaches his desk, the AP said.

The program is set to expire Sept. 30 unless Congress approves an extension, the wire service said.

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Dietary Supplement Recalled for Unapproved Ingredients

The maker of Zencore Tabs, marketed as a dietary supplement to enhance male sexual stamina, is recalling the product because it contains undeclared ingredients including aminotadalafil and sildenafil, chemicals whose derivatives are used in prescription medicines for erectile dysfunction, the U.S. Food and Drug Administration said Friday.

These and two other chemical ingredients, sulfosildenafil and sulfohomosildenafil, may interact with nitrates found in certain prescription drugs and could lower blood pressure to dangerous levels, the FDA said in a statement.

Zencore is marketed by Los Angeles-based Bodee LLC.

Consumers who have this product are urged to stop using it immediately and to see a health-care professional if they notice any side effects, the FDA said.

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Most Imported Food Never Inspected: Report

More than 98 percent of imported food is never inspected by the U.S. Department of Agriculture or the U.S. Food and Drug Administration, the two federal agencies charged with protecting Americans against tainted food, the Progressive Policy Institute said Friday. Imported food now accounts for about 13 percent of the average American's diet.

Some 76 million Americans get sick each year from eating spoiled, contaminated or tainted food, leading to 325,000 hospitalizations and 5,000 deaths, the Washington, D.C.-based group said in a statement.

While the FDA is responsible for 80 percent of the nation's food supply, 80 percent of the nation's annual food-safety budget goes to the Department of Agriculture, the PPI said.

"Currently, Americans are protected against tainted goods by a system of redundant, inefficient programs that let too many dangerous products through the cracks," the institute added.

The PPI offered the following remedies for what it said was an ailing food-inspection system:

  1. Grant food inspection authority to a sole agency, which should have stronger authority to recall unsafe food products, and would establish uniform standards for all domestic and imported foods.
  2. Focus attention on goods from nations with a history of problem imports. According to Sen. Charles Schumer (D-N.Y.), the United States rejects twice as many food shipments from China as from all other foreign nations combined. Nonetheless, China exported $4.2 billion in food and agriculture to the United States last year.
  3. Create a stronger federal recall authority. Currently, only infant formula is subject to any form of mandatory recall authority.
  4. Use a program designed to prevent the import of terrorist weapons -- the Container Security Initiative -- to inspect food shipments. The infrastructure created for the program exists in more than 50 ports around the world.

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Some Question Validity of 9/11 Health Data

A New York City program dedicated to monitoring the health of Ground Zero recovery workers has not always had the resources to do the job properly, and its performance in collecting data on post-9/11 health problems sometimes has been flawed, The New York Times reported Friday.

The Irving J. Selikoff Center for Occupational and Environmental Medicine, based at Mount Sinai Medical Center, has either directly examined or overseen the examination of more than 20,000 workers. Clinic doctors have published the largest and best-known studies of Ground Zero workers' health problems, the newspaper said.

"Six years after the disaster, it is clear that while the center's efforts have been well meaning, even heroic to some, its performance in a number of important areas has been flawed, some doctors say. For years after 9/11, the clinic did not have adequate resources or time to properly collect detailed medical data on workers exposed to Ground Zero dust," the Times reported.

Clinic doctors presented their research in ways that some experts said were scientifically questionable, having provided vague descriptions of workers' symptoms and their prognoses, the newspaper said. Experts also told the Times that the clinic's historical ties to labor unions may have influenced some of the health claims made public, and called into question whether those claims could be fully supported by study data.

Part of the problem is that there are no definitive records on how many people toiled at Ground Zero, or for how long. Also, no one knows precisely what was in the dust the workers inhaled. Finally, since many workers hadn't seen a doctor regularly before Sept. 11, 2001, there's no reliable way to confirm when respiratory symptoms and health problems actually began, the newspaper said.

The clinic's leaders acknowledge that their efforts were potentially troubled. But they said they did the best they could under the circumstances, citing their ever-increasing responsibilities with federal financing that came in fits and starts.

Dr. Philip J. Landrigan, who has overseen the clinic's efforts to help Ground Zero workers, said, "I'll accept that we could have done some things better and there's always room for improvement. You have to have a thick skin in this business."

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Chinese-Made Candles Pose Burn Hazards

Some 83,000 Chinese-made outdoor candles sold at Ace Hardware stores nationwide are being recalled because their unusually high flames pose burn and fire hazards to users, the U.S. Consumer Product Safety Commission said Friday.

The Hayes citronella "Avant Yarde" decorative candles have glazed lower portions that are brown, blue or green. Item number 18134 can be found on a label on the bottom of the product.

The candles were sold from February 2006 through June 2007 for about $8.

Consumers should stop using the products immediately and return them to any Ace Hardware store for a refund. To learn more, contact the distributor, Hayes Co. Inc., at 800-838-5053.

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Students, Parents Get Low Marks on Hand Washing

The average student in the United States earns only a "D" when it comes to understanding and practicing basic hand hygiene, according to this year's annual report card from the Soap and Detergent Association.

Parents fared slightly better, getting an overall grade of "C." Moms averaged out at "B-," while Dads earned only a "D+," the trade group said in a statement.

School nurses and health professionals surveyed earned the highest average marks at "B+," while teachers were awarded a "B-."

The group's 2007 "Clean Hands Report Card" was based on telephone interviews and on-site surveys.

The SDA offered this refresher course on effective hand washing:

  • Wet hands with warm running water before using soap.
  • With soap, rub hands together to a lather, away from the running water.
  • Wash the front and back of the hands, between the fingers and under the nails for at least 20 seconds.
  • Rinse well under warm running water.
  • Dry hands well with either a clean towel or air dryer.
  • Hand sanitizers or wipes will suffice if soap and water aren't available.

Posted: September 2007


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